Debut album complex and precocious

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April 23, 2013

Mo Kenney
Mo Kenney (New Scotland Records and Pheromone Recordings, 2012)
Produced by Joel Plaskett

Reviewed by Natalie Zina Walschots

Waverly, Nova Scotia’s Mo Kenney displays precocious emotional awareness and subtlety on her self-titled debut. Released jointly on New Scotland Records and Pheromone Recordings, Mo Kenney alternately soothes and challenges, sweet but never saccharine, smirking but not impertinent. The album was produced by Joel Plaskett at his studio, Scotland Yard,  where Kenney has been collaborating since 2011. It also features Plaskett’s  input on guest vocals and instrumentation. Kenney and Plaskett co-wrote the songs “Scene of the Crime” and “Deja Vu.” While Plaskett’s influence is undoubtedly deeply felt, it is Kenney’s voice and vision that ultimately shapes the album.

And speaking of voice, there is no doubt that Mo Kenney’s vocals form the centrepiece of this album. The most immediate point of comparison is Cat Power, but her tone is at once deeper and more buttery, recalling an early k.d. lang. Emotive, expressive and deeply sensual, her voice leads the listener like a golden thread through the narrative of each track, adding cheeky defiance to “Sucker,” languid poise to “The Great Escape” and a complete re-interpretation of the David Bowie track (and only cover on the album) “Five Years.”

Though only twenty-two now, Kenney has been writing songs since she was much younger; indeed, the album’s plaintive opening track, “Eden,” was originally set down when she was only sixteen. It’s not necessarily her talent that seems remarkable–it’s not unheard of for skill to bless the young (and Kenney has been studying music since she was a very small child)–but her clarity of vision and direction. These songs have a sense of unity, sophistication and drive. While certainly Kenney has had the benefit of powerful guiding forces, such as Plaskett and Ron Sexsmith, her character and her heart define this debut: both as calming and stormy as the sea, complex as the sweet sting of salt water.

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet, journalist and editor based in Toronto, Ontario.

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